NARA proposes mail discards

National Archives and Records Administration officials want to revise the agency's short-term e-mail policy, permitting federal officials to discard routine e-mail messages after a certain amount of time without keeping hard copies.

A proposed rule published today in the Federal Register would allow agencies "to dispose of short-term temporary electronic mail [e-mail] records (e.g., those with a retention period of 90, 120 or 180 days), without requiring the creation of a separate paper or electronic recordkeeping copy."

The short-term records can reside on a live e-mail system if users and the system's automatic deletion rules do not delete the messages before the NARA-approved retention period expires.

The rule applies to holiday e-mail messages, charity appeals, task lists and routine requests for information.

Records management experts say this is an improvement over past policy.

"I always regret when they wander down the path of trying to codify the ephemeral. ... It's like calling junk mail 'records,' " said Jeanne Young, a consultant and retired archivist and records manager.

Young's one objection is specifying the amount of time the correspondence must be kept.

"If they weren't worrying about this kind of minutiae, they'd have more time and energy and other financial resources to spend on really important records, which is their primary mission," Young added.

The proposed change seems reasonable, said Patrice McDermott, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations. But officials must make sure the retention schedule is the proper one, she said.

"And that's where the devil's in the details," said McDermott, who praised NARA officials for listing examples of short-term records and disposition schedules.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.